The Federal Communications Commission is ordering an administrative trial of the Tennis Channel’s complaint that Comcast is unfairly keeping it on a premium sports channel tier, the commission said on Tuesday.
The move could have reverberations in the FCC’s review of Comcast’s deal for NBC Universal.
In announcing the trial, the FCC’s Media Bureau agreed the channel had demonstrated sufficient prima facie evidence to warrant a hearing about whether Comcast was violating an FCC rule. It said the hearing would establish case facts.
On Comcast systems, the Tennis Channel appears on a premium sports tier that costs extra and has been trying without success to get wider distribution.
It complained to the FCC that Comcast has made its own sports channels, among them the Golf Channel and Versus, widely available but has refused to do the same for its channel.
An FCC rule bars cable operators from discriminating against programming they don’t own.
The channel’s complaint is similar to one made more than several years ago by the NFL Network, which eventually reached an agreement with Comcast for wider distribution.
Comcast has denied the allegations on Tuesday, saying Comcast was one of the first cable companies to carry the channel, and that the channel is available to nearly every home that wants it. “We look forward to refuting this groundless complaint in a full evidentiary hearing before an administrative law judge at the FCC," Comcast said in a statement.
“Our contract with Tennis Channel, which the network freely negotiated and signed in 2005, specifically permits us to carry Tennis Channel as part of our Sports Entertainment Package, where we – like many other distributors – currently offer it to our customers,” said the statement.
“Far from discriminating against Tennis Channel, we are fully honoring the terms of our agreement with Tennis Channel and plan to continue carrying the network for our customers and tennis fans.”
The Tennis Channel said it was pleased at the FCC action, in its own statement: "We look forward to presenting our full case, and we are confident that when the matter is finally resolved, Comcast will have been found definitively to have illegally discriminated against Tennis Channel and in favor of its owned sports services."